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Gas flares, oil spills worsen climate change in Niger Delta communities

By Edu Abade
19 July 2021   |   3:08 am
The oil-rich Niger Delta region has continued to suffer from the devastating effects of gas flaring and oil spills occasioned by operations of multinational firms.

Ground-based gas flaring

The oil-rich Niger Delta region has continued to suffer from the devastating effects of gas flaring and oil spills occasioned by operations of multinational firms.

The development is creating apprehension among communities, who are apparently worried about their survival in the region.

Some manifestations of the climate change crisis triggered by gas flaring and oil spills include, the disappearance of wildlife, fishes in rivers, creeks and fresh waters of the Delta, excessive heat, shrinking vegetation, especially of economic trees like palm trees, oranges, mangoes, pears, plantain and banana.

A recent visit to Kwale, a community in Ndokwa West Council of Delta State, revealed that the area, which is surrounded by about 10 flaring racks operated by oil majors such as Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), Pillar Oil Limited, Energia Oil Limited, Mid-Western Oil Limited, Sterling Global Limited’s Liquefied Natural Gas Plant, has become a furnace of sorts.

The residents hardly sleep due to excruciating heat emanating from the flaring and hydro-carbon emissions around the five quarters of the town also called Utgaba-Ogbe namely: Umusadege, Umeseti, Umusam, Isumpe and Umusideri.

Their neighbours in Lagos-Ogbe, Ogbe-Ani, Ebendo, Obodo-Ugwa, Benekuku, Aboh and Ushie in Ndokwa East Council as well as their Aradhe, Ellu and Ovrode counterparts in Isoko North Council, which are host communities to several oil wells, suffer similar environmental devastations.

A resident of Kwale, who doubles as former councilor of Ward three in Utagba-Ogbe, Chief Okpor Ezeukwu, expressed worries that Kwale is being affected by the activities of the oil firms.

Ezeukwu told The Guardian in an emotional voice that residents of Kwale are dying in hundreds, while the life expectancy is now below 60 years.

He said in spite of the oil wealth and numerous companies operating in the community, the neglect had emboldened criminal activities by the youths in the area.

He observed that the history of oil exploration in Kwale dates back to 1960/61 when Agip started drilling oil in the area about four years after oil was first discovered at Oloibiri, Bayelsa State in 1956. He added that the oil discovered in the community was used to prosecute the Nigerian civil war between 1967-1970.

He said Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) ceded its Oil Mining Lease (OML) 60 to Sterling Global, while Elf ceded its OML 56 platform to Pillar, adding that the quantum of flares amounted to about 10 trillion cubic feet of natural gas deposits within the Kwale bloc.

He described the impact of oil flares and spillages on the health of the community and its environs as very monumental, stressing that the excruciating heat, despite the rains, is so intense that most residents stay outside till midnight because they could not fall asleep.

Ezeukwu said: “It is a very lamentable situation we have found ourselves in Kwale. The oil firms smile away with our oil wealth. Flares from the oil wells have heated the environment to the extent that we hardly sleep.”

He added, “There have been reported cases of pulmonary diseases due to inhalation of hydrocarbon emissions. Regrettably, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) carried out recently within the community did not capture anything, fuelling speculations that the oil companies might have tampered with the results of the EIA to suit their whims and caprices.”

Ezeukwu said the quantum of oil being taken from the Ndokwa bloc is not properly recorded or tracked, adding that the political leaders from the area were not doing enough to check the rape of Ndokwa resources and attract greater development to Utagba-Ogbe.

He argued that a former Speaker of the Delta State House of Assembly, Dr. Olisa Imegu, tried to attract government attention to the area, but the attempts coulwere not attract higher institutions, roads and other critical infrastructure.

According to him, Kwale which was like the Yankarri Games Reserve in those days, with a very rich wild life, among which were elephants, buffalos, monkeys, bush pigs, giant tortoise, deer, porcupine, leopard, antelopes and grass cutters, has lost the entire rich resources.

“The animals must have gone extinct or fled to more friendly environments. Hunters have disappeared from our communities, as they no longer catch games even after hunting the whole night,” he said.

He said people now die mysteriously from hypertension daily, adding that a professor recently die from circumstances related to cardiovascular challenges as a result of inhaling hydrocarbon emissions.

“The Federal Government has to know that health is wealth and what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Kwale where the oil and gas is coming from is grossly neglected. The health situation can never be overstretched. Government has to provide hospitals and health facilities. The Central Hospital in Kwale is just in the building as it lacks nurses, doctors and functional equipment to the extent that health crisis are referred to Warri, Oghara or Benin City in Edo State.’’

He also regretted the communal clashes that ensue among host communities, pointing that the law that extends the benefits of oil and gas deposits (if any) to communities as far as 30 kilometres within reach of oil wells, was a great source of concern as the communities with oil and gas deposits always appropriate the benefits of the resources to themselves. This, he stated undermines the community spirit triggers violence that often lead to loss of lives.

“Government should do everything possible to stop the flares and reckless waste of the nation’s gas resources by way of flaring. If the gas flares and constant spills do not stop, we are headed for a major climate change crisis” he stated.

A farmer in the area who spoke to The Guardian, Mr. Goodluck Agatefe, maintained that the effects of constant gas flaring and spillages on farm produce in the community and its environs remained devastating.

Agatefe said, “When I moved to Kwale in 1990, our yams, cassavas, plantains, bananas, and even fruits like mangoes, oranges, pineapples and pears were some of the most robust in Delta State. In fact, Kwale used to be the food basket of Delta and neigbouring Anambra State, but as oil activities continued to impact the environment, we hardly harvest good produce these days. The situation gets worse each farming year and with it comes dwindling farm produce and scarcity of major food items.”

For Maryanne Omakor, who trades in fish around Iselegu, Aboh, Ashaka, Igbuku and Ibrede, among other communities along the Ase Creek, she lamented that the quality and quantity of fish that used to be available in the popular Eke Market in Kwale has deteriorated and revenue from the fish business, had almost disappeared.

“The result is that scarcity of fish had led to high prices, so mush so that those who buy fish around Kwale now travel as far as Rivers and Bayelsa states to explore alternative sources of fish supply, which usually result in higher prices,” she said, adding that with heightened spillages and continuing gas flares, the situation is getting worse by the day”, she said.

The Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nnimmo Bassey, who spoke at the Oilfield/FishNet Dialogue in Gbarain, Bayelsa State, lamented that several fish species are endangered and some already going into extinct due to constant pollution.

He said: “The Niger Delta has several freshwater and marine ecosystems like rivers, lakes, streams and creeks. Before the onslaught of six decades of unrelenting oil pollution, there was an abundance of fish species in both freshwater and marine ecosystems in the Niger Delta. Today, many of these fish species are endangered due to constant pollution and some are already going extinct.”

Meanwhile, to avert a major climate change catastrophe exacerbated by gas flares and spills, a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs), including Corporate Accountability, Friends of The Earth International, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa (CAPPA), ActionAid, Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice and Third World Network (TWN), among others, recently organised a zoom training for African journalists. The experts advised that civil society, media and governments must scrutinise “net zero” announcements (as being vigorously promoted by Shell) to assess whether they are committing to real action.

The group said, “We must look beyond the slogans and expose attempts to use the term to obfuscate, distract or delay real emissions reductions. Strong scrutiny and pressure are needed to deliver the transformation necessary to bring emissions down to real zero and avoid climate chaos.”

“Planet Earth is already breaching so many environmental tipping points that more than 1.5°C of warming may be locked in within the next 10 years. To truly do the hard work needed to avoid runaway climate catastrophe, global North countries and transnational corporations (TNCs) must rapidly stop polluting, and bring their annual emissions down to nearly zero, or Real Zero, within a decade. Climate action for real zero requires deep reserves of courage to challenge the economic models, broken systems and corporate power that are at the root of the climate and biodiversity crises,” they said.

Responding to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) as passed by the National Assembly, representatives of HOMEF, CAPPA, We The People and the Environmental Rights Action, Friends of the Earth Nigeria (ERA/FoEN), also carpeted the lawmakers for considering gas flaring as waste of economic resources, which should be paid for, and not as an abuse, which impacts the climate, the health and livelihoods of communities.

According to them, “The PIB does not place any definite flare-out date, giving the impression that the practice will continue indefinitely to the detriment of host communities, who continue to bear the dangerous consequences. The PIB does not appear to consider Nigeria’s climate change pledges as contained in the nation’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Other recommendations pushed forward include, “transforming energy systems away from centralised corporate-controlled fossil fuels and other harmful technologies such as, nuclear, mega-hydro and biofuels to clean, safe systems that empower people and enhance healthier communities.”